Three Words: Shade’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper

i am trans.

three little words that carry the weight of my being. three little words that have taken me a long time to say.

three years ago, a friend asked me a simple question – ‘what are your pronouns?’. no one had ever asked me that. no one had ever given me permission to be not female.

with those words, i suddenly had an understanding of who i was, a knowledge of who i was. i felt like i’d always known, and never had the language for it. i knew the truth of it to my bones. my soul felt whole when i answered.

from the moment i was born my gender role was written out for me.

there never was any room for choice, for difference. i was female, i was girl, i was a young lady. this fundamentalist world believes in only two genders, and assigns them fiercely based on body shape. there is to be no deviation from this.

i hated every minute of it.

‘i can choose?’ i asked hesitantly.

‘of course,’ they said to me.

‘my pronouns are they/them. i have no gender.’

‘i believe you.’

just like that, the world shifted.


i am 5.

‘Do you know what you’ve done?’

my body shakes. words pile up behind my teeth.

‘You were sitting immodestly. Young Ladies never sit like that. Bend over.’


i am 8.

wind is catching my skirts. they hug my legs, alive and hungry, they haunt my steps. snow falls from sky, we all twirl.

and out-about-around, our skirts fly in circles.

we are free.

‘What are you doing? I can see your legs! How could you be so careless?’

we flutter to a stop. world’s still spinning ’round my head, skirts fall ’round our ankles.

‘Young ladies are supposed to be modest. What if you had caused someone to stumble? You’re lucky no one saw you. Come inside.’

heavy barred, the cage falls on my back.


i am 12.

we sit in a circle, teacher is talking to us about modesty.

‘And make sure your collarbone never shows. We need to be careful with our bodies, because it could cause a brother to stumble.’

i hear laughter from outside. the boys are playing basketball. their shirts are off. no one cares about their collarbones.

i wish for freedom.

i hate being a girl.


i am 17.

they are screaming at me. i’ve just broken up with the boy i’m supposed to marry.

how do i explain the burning that i feel when someone calls me a ‘girl’? or a ‘lady’?

how do i explain the trapped feeling that comes with dresses and makeup? i don’t want to marry, i want to be free.


the older i got, the more the pressure to be feminine grew.

skirts were always the right clothing, that and dresses. and even for a time we were wearing pinafores and bonnets. always modest, always gracious, ladylike.

i hated being a girl.

i knew i was different, but i had no words for it.

while young, i escaped to the outdoors. outside never cared that i was the wrong kind of female. outside never asked me to prove my femaleness, to show my modesty as a password to safety that never appeared.

it just was.

trees stretched sky to ground, branches scraping out their songs. ponds and creeks that delicately gave sky a mirror for its laughter, that strung wind’s fingers through water’s skin. stars that echoed night’s softness. but as i grew, outdoors became forbidden.

i was to pursue the art of being a lady. everything i did was focused on this. there were no vacations, no breaks. no permission to even be a tomboy. being a lady was the only choice. we had classes on it, books on it, seminars on it. being a lady was hard work, and it was to be my job.

somehow i was always failing.

i didn’t smile enough. i didn’t talk enough. my voice was too soft. my strides were too long, i was too tall. my hair was too wild. being feminine was such work. my face was too ‘strong’. my hands too big.

it felt like a costume i was wearing badly.

i’d wake up, and put on the skin of femininity. piece by piece, i’d array myself until i felt ready to try facing the world with my failed facade of feminine.

eventually i escaped to college, where the world was a little bit bigger. though still fundamentalist, it was non-denominational. it allowed jeans. it allowed girls to play sports. there was suddenly a spectrum of feminine, and i didn’t stand out.

it gave me room to breathe.

they preached, though. how they preached. lgbtq was forbidden, was evil. all i knew was that being gay was wrong. there were no words for trans, for non-binary, there was just the endless words of the bible making sure i knew how evil i was.

there were no words for me, just a not-belonging.

i knew i wasn’t gay, but that was all i knew.

there was no language for transgender, or even the hint of their/our existence. it was like transgender persons were invisible.

leaving that world behind, i was suddenly thrust into a community where these things were talked about with ease. the terms being used were unfamiliar, so i looked them up. and i read. i gathered information on gender identity, on orientation, on term after term.

there was a whole world out there, a full spectrum of being that had been hidden from me.

and then my friend asked me a simple question.

‘what are your pronouns?’

even after that, i hesitated to call myself ‘trans’. i worried that i wasn’t really trans, or that i wasn’t trans enough. i still felt like i had nowhere to belong.

my friend again had the answer to my question.

‘what am i? where do i belong?’

‘you’re trans.’

‘am i trans enough?’

‘you belong.’

even though i am not out to my family and community, i am out to my partner and online friends. i no longer try to wear the skin of female.

it is a relief to be known.


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